Artimus

I started hearing tales of the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash of ’77 from my father when pampers were still my favorite pair of pants.  I knew who Ronnie Van Zant was before Big Bird, and my Sunday dinners at Mamaw’s house were really jam sessions that became my lullabies. My father’s hair was longer than my mother’s at that time, and all the men in my family sported bloody finger tips that were slaves to those beckoning long-necked instruments.  At 27 years old, in the age of whatever it is music has become that I haven’t a word that qualifies, I can bank on every family get-together bringing me back to a place when it was pure.  It’s a place I can only visit through my father’s time machine in a land that existed around the time my mother discovered boys.  I go back whenever my now greying father and Uncle pick up their guitars, close their eyes, and try to perfect still, that long ever-growing famously tricky six-string solo in Free Bird.


 

Artimus Pyle, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s drummer, and only original band-member still touring traipsed into the Applebee’s in Candler, North Carolina, my hometown about two weeks ago. 

“Lorna, you got to get down here, now,”  My husband’s voice was urgent on the other end of the phone.

“Why?  Is something wrong?”

“No.  Artimus Pyle is here.  We’re hanging out, and he’s cool as hell,”  my husband’s speech was hurried.

“You’re lying!”

“No…”

“I’ll be there in five,”  I replied with my mind reeling all the things I knew about this legend.  I knew he had a house in Asheville, but what was he doing at an Applebee’s in the down-home Candler suburb of the artsy town?

When I walked in, I saw him immediately and I had to catch my breath a little.  I was genuinely star-struck.  I swear I could smell a faint trail of smoke permeating from his long burly hair, that grew like ragged wires from under his distressed leather cowboy hat.  I wondered what the eyes from behind his aviator glasses had seen in the world of rock n’ roll, fame, and heartache.  I knew his eyes would certainly tell the stories of things I had never and would never see. 

When my husband motioned to him, and it was our time to finally meet, I don’t remember exactly what I said.  It was something to the effect of how I grew up on his music, and was proud to keep the band alive in my generation…you know, the things you say, but trying to stand out all at once.  In retrospect, I may have sounded rushed, and looked like a pre-teen meeting Justin Bieber.

When I handed him the clean white half sheet of paper the waitress rustled up for me, I first noticed his time-worn hands.  They shook a bit as he started to write, “Laugh, Lorna.  Peace, love, and happiness (in symbols).  Artimus Pyle, Drums, Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame 2006.”  I took the sheet from him, perusing it in awe.  Then, I noticed the initials, RVZ.

“You, signed Ronnie’s initials, didn’t you?”  I asked, moved that he’d not omitted the lead-singer and founding member’s name.

“You wouldn’t even know my name had it not been for that man,” he replied seriously, “and after the crash I started signing his initials.”

Artimus Pyle Band

I thought to myself what a class-act this man truly was to carry-on the memory of his fallen band-member and how proud I was to meet him.  It was then I relaxed a little bit and started just chatting with him.  I found out how he co-wrote my favorite Skynyrd song, Tuesday’s Gone, and how he was always drawn to Asheville, NC. We chatted about his respect for the philanthropic Asheville-born musician, Warren Haynes, and how he’d played with him here and there.  He spoke of his son, River, and how proud he was of him. I was careful not to bring up the plane crash, though I was so painfully curious about his take on it.  All I knew was that Van Zant and the Gaines members perished, and Artimus survived.  I wanted to know more, and maybe he sensed it, because he went into the story all on his own.”

“You know, after the crash, there was just smoke everywhere,” he began, “and I ran to the barn to get help.”

“I didn’t know you were able to that,”  I replied in awe.

He went on to describe the only things he remembered, and the whirlwind it became.  I could tell some of it was cloudy to him, yet still felt as real as it had over 35 years ago.  My guess is it was cloudy then.

After telling me to remember that money ruins everything, I gave him a hug, noticing an unimagined raw musk about him, and he went on his way.  I rushed home and googled him immediately, seeing what else I could learn.  I discovered when he ran from the plane wreckage to the nearby barn, the farmer’s son actually shot Artimus in the shoulder with an air-rifle because he was startled by his appearance.  I learned he never stopped revering Van Zant and the other members, and had made the legacy of the band his life.  I discovered he’d had ups, and downs, but understood the things that matter in life…, respect and downright allegiance to his band, family, art, and fellow man.  He is yet another jewel tucked in these blue ridge mountains; an ARTimus form in Asheville that we’re forever proud to claim.

Artimus Pyle and Lorna Hollifield January 3, 2014

Artimus Pyle and Lorna Hollifield January 3, 2014




The Grander Roar

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I pulled up to 265 Charlotte Street this past Friday night. I knew a little bit about the building, a little bit about the event, and an even littler bit about the hosting organization. I blushingly admit I was skeptical about the “Diamond Ball.”  I was coming in as an outsider to a soirée thrown by a very reputable league, sponsored by a patriarchal business that has perhaps the strongest back bone in Asheville, even surviving the Great Depression.  The Junior League of Asheville was founded in 1925, and Wick and Greene Jewelers in 1926.  The two have been leaders in the community, often rubbing elbows, and taking charitable journeys together ever since.  I knew I was entering a world of great successes Friday night, but also a world of strong community presences that reach back decades.  Truth be told, I was nervous.  However, I’m always looking for a reason to discover…and to wear a pretty dress, of course, so I went.

The writer in me took in the atmosphere first: the smells, the sounds, the ambiance.  I got the warm fuzzies immediately.  My high heel shoes clicked delightfully against the hardwoods that I knew had experienced history itself traipsing all over them.  I could tell already that this was a building that knew things.  The Manor Inn served as an upscale resort in the early twentieth century during Asheville’s wellness heyday.  Naturally, dwarfed in size by the nearby Grove Park Inn, this building had much to prove…which it did.  Architects from across the country added bits of flavor to the structure that ultimately took on a tudoresque and colonial revivalist feel.  Surrounding cottages followed suit, and so did Asheville.  Buildings all over downtown would idolize such architectural tastes and make for a beautiful “lost generation” stomping ground. 

I felt like I opened the front door to this magical place Friday night and became whisked right into that roaring era that no one can seem to forget.  I was surrounded by newsboy hats, flapper’s dresses, sequined headbands, and vibrant bow ties.  I could hear big band music in the back, but with a fiddle player touting a specific style that reminded me I was in The South indeed. A genuinely-dressed flapper carried the sought after single-carat, 15,000 dollar diamond around for all to admire (donated to be raffled by Wick and Greene Jewelers).  It took about fourteen seconds for me to realize these women could throw a par-tay.

I’m a huge advocate of the idea of “work hard and play hard”.  I think people who give such large amounts of their lives and energies to charity and voluntarism should know how to have a ball, and do so with the community who supports them.  I just wasn’t sold yet.  I wanted to know how I would be received in this prestigious group, and I wanted to get to know these women on a more personal level.  I was by no means trying to hold them under a microscope, yet human nature left me slightly guilty of doing so.

I set out to meet Keri Wilson, the Asheville chapter’s president.  I thought I would have to ask around and seek her out.  I pictured her to be surrounded by important people, finding it difficult to get away.  However, I would soon find out that the bubbly brunette who ushered me in with a smile not even an Oscar winner could fake would turn out to be her.  I’d never gotten such a warm greeting.  She was eager to welcome me in personally, as well as the askasheville organization.  She directed me where to find food and beverages, without forgetting to give Wick and Greene jewelers a chorus of praise for all they’d done. She was the first representation of the Junior League I’d ever encountered and the impression was a breath of fresh air. I wanted to meet more of these women.

junior league asheville diamond ball

 A group of J.L. members with the diamond courtesy of Wick and Greene Jewelers (Keri Wilson, president on far left)

After mingling a bit I came across J.L. member, Melissa Kledis.  This charismatic woman had a huge energy about her that lured me in quickly.  After talking for a few minutes I learned that this Edward Jones advisor, school volunteer, wife, and mother of three was one of the co-chairs of the event.  I had trouble imagining how such an incredibly busy woman had so much stamina left in her, but I realized after talking with her it was because she believed in every single thing she did.  In that ten to fifteen minutes we talked, she spoke passionately about her job, her children, her wonderful husband, the terrific family she had married into (who introduced her to the league), and the tremendous opportunities to serve her community she would not have had without the Junior League.  This woman’s busy schedule truly was her reward, and I could see her wearing it as plainly as the feathers in her hair.  This woman felt empowered by her efforts, but was focused most on empowering others.

melissak  Melissa Kledis and her husband.

By the end of the night I sat thinking in a beautiful wing-backed chair by the door.  I could feel the air conditioning getting fresh with my leg from the antiquated vent beneath me.  I noted the air conditioner had a certain smell, like the one in the house I grew up in, which was coincidentally was built circa 1920.  I felt so at ease now, with the skepticism erased, and a sense of community embracing me.  I’d had a magical night escaping to my favorite era, but the bigger roar came from within the passions of the incredible women I had the pleasure of meeting.  The Junior League’s Mission Statement reads, ” “The Association of Junior Leagues International Inc. (AJLI) is an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable.”  I found it to be more than accurate.

I will gladly support The Junior League of Asheville in any way I can.  Their current missions have focused on helping those falling below the poverty line, which in today’s economy is far too many.  Most days it is people in need that these women care about becoming important to.  They have been working closely with the Homeward Bound project to put an end to homelessness in the Asheville area.  They have also been cooperating with the ABCCM and Children First organizations.  When the community supports the Junior League at fundraisers like the Diamond Ball they are really supporting the faces they see everyday, and making far-reaching contributions to those who need it most.  These are the fruits of the grander roar these women create every day.

For more information on the Junior League of Asheville, please visit http://www.juniorleagueasheville.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

 [hide

 

 

Yum

vincenzos asheville nc

When I start to write I want to feel a “yumminess” start to awaken me, trying to coax a story out.  I do not sit down with a pen and look at the wall waiting for inspiration.  Instead, I breathe in my surroundings, and exhale the thing that tickles me most. When writing about my amazing city, I do it much the same way.  If something makes an impression on me, pretty soon, it’s ink spilled all over paper.

This week I could not stop thinking about Vincenzo’s Ristorente and Bistro in downtown Asheville.  The first time I ate there was ten years ago when I was only 17.  A prom date I soon regretted had taken me there, and at 17 I had no idea the taste of Northern Italy I was about to experience (nor the dose of culture).  However, I do remember when I visited the real Italy only a few months later that something in Florence took me back to that pre-prom meal, which was the only good thing my date did that May evening. 

I didn’t return for several years until one of girlfriends planned a special bachelorette evening for me the weekend before my wedding.  I wish I could remember the name of the server who flattered me when he said every man on Earth would be crying on my wedding day.  This is the kind of service women should receive everywhere in town, but I digress.  On top of the service, I noticed things I had failed to as a prom-bound teenager, and it was more than just the wine list (which of course is phenomenal).  It was the old world charm Asheville is so famous for touting on our rather young side of the pond. Certain parts of this city simply make the best eras stand still, and somehow Vincenzo’s captures more than one of them.  First of all, there was the art-deco building that the little trattoria sits in…it was one of the casualties of poverty that left us one of our many pieces of architectural art in town.  Moreover, there was a sound pulling me even closer to the jazz age…oh, that may have been the jazz music permeating out of the building.  My guess is it was, and it was a smooth, smoky, almost tangible brand of jazz.  It was the kind that ushers you right into its arms, clothing you in the cloth of a decade dedicated to music at it’s finest, where instruments and voices where explored and navigated through, only opening doors for what would later become a revolution…yeah I wore it that night, and whatever it was invaded me, and I dug it.  Still, it took me a few years to make it back again.  It was like the restaurant and I had become long lost lovers, passing in the night only ever so often…but tender are those nights we pass.

My latest venture there was just over a month ago for an old friend’s engagement party.  I couldn’t wait.  For one, I was still haunted by the ambiance, and two I wanted a reason to wear my new cocktail dress.  Really, I wanted to feel fabulous and fussed over.  We all did.

This time there was a different feel to restaurant.  It was raining outside, and we’d had some unseasonably cool weather for the last few days of August.  However, it was summer and still humid.  There was a steam floating about the streets, and an eeriness in the air.  It was a delicious eeriness however, a cozy one that made me curious.

We sat down at the picturesque table, and I noticed that vibrant drapes that didn’t take me just decades back, but centuries. The décor really looks like the Baroque Era in Europe got in a fight with 1920s America, but it works together harmoniously.  I found myself noting ideas for my own writing room.  It was yummy.

Still, I felt spooky tonight…maybe because it was later than usual, or maybe because of the cool rain.  I didn’t know. 

I asked the waiter, “tell me, is there a history to this building?”

“Ohhh yes,”  replied the waiter, “it’s said to be haunted.  During the Spanish Flu epidemic (in which Asheville lost 25% of the adult population) it was a furniture store that had its basement made into the mortuary when the hospital ran out of room.”

“Yum,”  I responded.

I don’t personally believe in ghosts, but now I had a story.  Suddenly the spirits in the basement gave this place a heartbeat.  The final puzzle piece had come for me:  the history.  That’s the bone marrow of the things I love.  I recommend Vincenzo’s to anyone.  It is a great place to eat, drink, socialize, hear music, wear a cocktail dress for sport, and soak in the deliciousness of Asheville at its finest.  It’s history, mystery, romance, and wine.  It’s the perfect date spot, or place to sit mysteriously in fedora by yourself.  Just eat there.  Do it as a group, a couple, or individual, but however you do it, give yourself to it completely and become yummy alongside of it.

Photo above: My girlfriends and I standing in front of the mood-lit table and old-fashioned windows just before I ordered the 007-Bombay with a twist.  Shaken, not stirred of course.

 

A Little Bit of Soul

Everyone knows that Asheville has some sort of special “it” quality.  There’s something to the food, the music, the climate, the architecture, and the people.  There’s just a soul present that many other cities simply cannot contend with.  Asheville has held onto a quality many cities have lost in sky-scrapers, public transportation systems, and technology.  It’s funny really, because this apparition, this spirit, draws artists, celebrities, and intellectuals as strongly as a magnet lures metal.  I set out to discover why.

I started researching my city a couple years ago, which prompted me to tour my own city through La Zoom Tours. After the research and the tours, I chocked up the town’s charisma to a couple different things: it’s birth, and it’s death. In the late 1700s Asheville was nothing but a convenient patch of dirt, sitting in a valley at the crossroads of a Cherokee trading route.  They say real estate is all about location, location, location.  This meeting place of sorts just happened to have a nice river running through it, and some trails elevated low enough for the horses to hoof it without falling sideways off a cliff.  The white settlers came in, realized its potential, and noticed it wasn’t hard to look at either.  We all know how the rest of that story went…luckily the hills kept their secrets and preserved a lot of that early heritage with folk art, and a respect for nature unparalleled in much of our country.

The death of Asheville was as important as the birth.  What death?  Some may be wondering how they missed the memo.  Asheville became a huge part of the jazz age, and one of the major hubs of the 20s scene.  It’s this flashy era that Asheville can trace some it’s progressive roots.  The city became a regular stomping ground for the Fitzgeralds and their cronies (I think Hemingway actually made it Beer City U.S.A. back then).  That on top of Thomas Wolfe hailing from here, the city was a literary hot spot.  Intellectuals and writers had now entered the scene.  The ingredients that make Asheville were in the pot and boiling.  People were building new buildings next to the old, rubbing elbows with Vanderbilts, and mixing deep southern culture with new ideas, causing ignition.  It was a city of steam, and it was smoldering from the inside out.

Sadly, Asheville couldn’t hide from the stock market crash in ’29.  Asheville had the most debt per capita of any city in America.  There was no money left, and the charming streets once filled with trolleys, bootlegged liquor, and new money had no more hustle and bustle.  Blood stains from self-inflicted wounds sadly decorated the walls of too many banks, and too many bedroom walls in the upscale Montford neighborhood.  For the next 50 years much of the city looked like a ghost town, a shell of what once was.  The city had died.

Now for the triumphant part.  Here in Asheville, we believe in ghosts.  We believe that the soul of the city that hosted so much life would not go gently into the night.  A city that produced singers like Roberta Flack, war heroes like Kiffin Rockwell,and awe inspiring evangelists like Billy Graham would not simply succumb to becoming a “once upon a time”.  This was a city with too much presence.  People started pouring in, enamored with what was left behind. The city was like a beautiful, intricate bees nest preserved by time, built in a season that thrived.  However, those bees work was done, and they had laid down their duties.  They became Zelda Fitzgeralds dying in fires on a knoll in Montford, or artists knowing moonshine all to well, or angels knowing they could never go home again.  They didn’t thrive, but instead left legacies in the form of art deco buildings, great literary works, soulful music, and museums.  We were left untouched French gothic buildings, art deco masterpieces (one of the greatest collections in the nation), and the largest privately owned home in America; ours to tour.  Why?  We couldn’t afford anything else, so we held onto that abandoned space and filled it with art, breathing sweet honeysuckle scented life back into its spirit, and gave birth to this town once again.  If you ask me, this Mecca of art and humanity should be one any bucket list in the world.

I got more acquainted with this when I toured my own city on a La Zoom tour, and feel I’ve truly tasted it now.  La Zoom is a comedic tour featuring all the hot spots I mentioned.  Tours run daily, and meet on Biltmore Avenue right outside the French Broad Food Co-op (which is a great place to buy your local beer to take on the tour)!  After this tour you’ll have a lengthy list of places to visit time and time again.  Bring a change of pants though, in case your pee yourself laughing! 

 

My husband and I having a great time!

 

ph2          ph1

 

Post by:  Lorna Hollifield

http://www.lornahollifield.com Click here for more on aspiring author, Lorna Hollifield!